Category Archives: Yoga tips and hits

The 3 A’s of Handstand!

Adho Mukha Vrksasana (handstand) requires grace, commitment, strength, and playfulness. This pose has become a common goal within the Yoga Union community. At home and in the studio, students are navigating the new sensations of standing upside down, finding joy in working with the pose.  Their persistent practice is now bearing fruit: walk into the studio for an Anusara Inspired 2 or a Prana Vinyasa class and, if your timing is right, you may see more than half the room up on their hands!


For those who aspire to stick handstand in the middle of the room,  this sight can be misleading. In my early years of yoga I would look around and think, “Most of these people don’t look like tremendous athletes. Why can they do it and I can’t?” After several years of consistent practice, my answer is that a successful asana practice can come from following the three A’s of Anusara Yoga.

1. Attitude – This is by far the most important part of the practice. As John Friend says, “Attitude comes first.” In practicing a positive mental approach, yoga transcends and includes the physical realm, and the poses become an inside-out practice, a practice of self-expression. Much of what holds us back in the poses is unnecessary mental baggage. Only when we’re conscious of our mental chatter and our attitudinal alignment can any heavy self-talk be alchemized into the lightness of laughter. When we learn to laugh at our self-diminishing narrator, we lighten the burden of our mind and then we can float up into handstand. Without lightening this burden, we feel too heavy to support the weight. Before you attempt handstand, always check in with your attitude to see if it will serve you. More often than not, your awareness alone will transform a diminishing mindset into one that opens the possibilities of your pose.

2. Alignment – There is a skillful technology of aligning the outer body that makes the poses accessible. After checking in with your attitude, bring your awareness to your physical form. The following is an offering from the Universal Principles of Alignment of Anusara Yoga.

To go into handstand, first come into downward facing dog with your hands five inches from a wall. Be sure that your fingers are spread wide and the creases of your wrist are both parallel to the wall. Take a deep breath and lengthen your side body by sliding your shoulders toward your ears. Ground through your index finger mounds and draw your forearms toward one another; then contract the shoulder blades on your back by softening your heart. Keep the kidneys full, up away from the earth. Keep breathing your waistline back. Keep your arms strong and your heart soft as you step one foot halfway toward your hands. Extend the other leg to the sky. The skyward leg is the straight leg. Keep it straight as you kick up to the wall. Remember, the arms must also stay straight here as well.

Once you’re upside down, bring both heels to the wall and squeeze your legs together.   Lengthen your tailbone toward the ceiling, so that your stomach tucks slightly.  Keeping your arms strong, exhale and soften your heart again to contract your shoulder blades into the back of your heart. Keep your gaze forward rather than dropping your head and looking back toward the center of the room. Hold for as long as you can maintain the alignment, and then come down to rest. Lowering one leg while keeping the other high, gently descend. After resting, repeat: each handstand in a practice-set will become more familiar due to muscle-memory.

3. Action – The pose is always playfully expansive. Extend your pose once it has been aligned inwardly and outwardly. Keep your legs hugging, arms squeezing in, and shoulder blades muscularly contracting on the back. From this place of muscular contraction, focused at your heart, expand energetically in all directions. Press your arms more deeply into the earth. Stretch up and out through your legs into your toes toward the sky. Actively spread your toes.

Handstand is a wonderful pose for partner-work.  I don’t know anybody who has achieved proficiency without help from friends. Surely it is possible, but only with far more time and effort. In any case, the real question is not “Can I do it by myself?” but “Why not work together at this?” Many people at Yoga Union, working on handstand together, are improving their poses while enjoying the teaching and the learning and the friendship of working with peers. Working together reinforces our commitment. Together we are stronger and more supported, our practice more interconnected and more playful. By sharing our practice and integrating it into a community we also help others in their endeavor, so we all grow together, as individuals and as a community.

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Pose of the Month, Siddhasana “Perfect Pose”

As many of you know, June’s pose of the month is Siddhasana, also known as the “perfect pose”. Already in class I’ve heard students joke about the irony of this choice,
“We do this one everyday!” or, “More like pose of the year!”
And it’s true! We do find ourselves in Siddhasana more often than many other poses, which makes it an even better choice to focus on mindfully for the next few weeks (and hopefully continuing on into the future). Often times the poses we find easy or familiar are the ones that allow our minds to wander the most.

“Siddha” in Sanskrit refers to the hidden powers within the body that assist individuals in attaining spiritual upliftment. The pose is thought to be one of the most important asanas and one of the most beneficial seated poses, allowing the yogi to practice breath control (pranayama), concentration, meditation, and self- realization.

Siddhasana directs the energy from the lower psychic centers upward through the spine, thus stimulating the brain and calming the nervous system. It redirects blood circulation to the lower spine and abdomen, and tones the lumbar region of the spine, the pelvis, and the abdominal organs. It also allows for a balancing of the reproductive system and blood pressure.

Here are some technique tips to help you achieve Siddhasana:

  •  Sit down with both legs outstretched in front of you (Dandasana), keeping length in the spine.
  • Bend the left leg at the knee, and place the heel at the perineum, then fold the right leg and place the heel against the pubic bone, allowing the foot to angle downwards.
  • Both ankles should be resting, one on top of the other.
  • Keep both knees and the left heel in touch with the floor.
  • Keep awareness if your spine- if it is difficult to keep it straight, don’t hesitate to use a blanket under the buttocks to increase upward length
  • Rest the hands on the knees, perhaps with palms facing upwards, or in Gyan mudra (allowing the tip of the thumb and the tip of the index finger of each hand, to touch one another).
  • Close the eyes and look inward- scan your body and breathe into the areas that need some extra attention. Use the breath to bring awareness into the posture and into your self.
  • Reversing the position of the feet and repeating for the same length of time, or, alternating the foot on top at each class can be beneficial and balancing.

The main anatomical focus in this pose is the spine, but take caution or make adjustments as needed if you have a knee injury. As always, ask an instructor if you need assistance or have a question about any component of the pose. And most importantly, find enjoyment in it!

Sources:
http://yogajournal.com
http://yoga-teacher-training.org

Everyone Yoga!

How old were you when you began your yoga practice? Do you ever wish you had found yoga at an earlier age? Many parents in cities across the country are encouraging their children to explore yoga and its teachings earlier, and classes taught for kids are becoming increasingly more popular. Yoga can be a wonderful way for children to learn how to calm the mind, exercise the body and appreciate the inner strengths and resources of every individual.

While some research has been done on the effects of yoga on children, definitive results are limited. However, there are several speculated benefits and many of them include the same advantages adults receive from a regular practice. Here’s just a few of the ways getting your child involved in yoga could help them later in life-

*Improved attention, concentration and promotion of emotional and self-control. Mindfulness is one of the greatest teachings of yoga. Exploring and developing mindfulness within yoga can be especially helpful for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) with one study reporting a reduction in mood swings, temper outbursts and crying fits.
*Improved ability to plan and carry-out complex brain functions. Research suggests that yoga increases blood flow to the frontal lobe of the brain, which results in a faster realization and correction of errors. This can be especially helpful during standardized tests given in schools.
*Improved strength and flexibility of muscles. Besides the obvious benefits of being strong and flexible, strengthening the muscles allows for an increase in circulation which results in an uptake of oxygen and hormones. This allows the parasympathetic nervous system (the “Rest and Digest” component of our brain) to take over. What does that mean? Reduced stress! And also an increased resistance to its effects later on.
*Decreased depression and anxiety. Research shows that people who practice yoga regularly have increased levels (sometimes as much as 27%!) of neurotransmitter y-aminobutyric acid (GABA) which is known to elevate mood. Starting yoga early can help young children develop and maintain positive outlooks on life.

If you’re considering yoga for your child,  it’s important to find the right learning environment for the development of foundations that will be used throughout a lifetime. The focus should be more on the cultivation of compassion and acceptance, as well as the connection between breath and postures, than on competition or perfection of poses (this is true for adults as well! But sometimes easy to forget ). Do your research before enrolling your child, and develop a relationship with the instructor.  Communicate with your child and make sure yoga classes are fun and that they are enjoying the experience. Some studios offer joint parent/child classes where you can practice together. This can be a great way to introduce them to yoga with you there to guide, support and offer encouragement.

Information received from:

http://74.125.155.132/scholar?q=cache:saHeUCq-eKoJ:scholar.google.com/+yoga+for+children&hl=en&as_sdt=0,38

Below are some resources for additional information on yoga for children.
Namaste!

http://www.yogajournal.com/lifestyle/210
http://moveyogastudio.com/ 

Applying the Universal Principles of Alignment in Anusara Yoga

1. Initiate your asana with Opening to Grace, an intentional approach of softness. In the first moment of your pose, align your heart’s intention with your spirit and your physical being. Soften your whole being with humility. You can begin with any asana.
2. Affect the Heart Chakra (The Heart Chakra is the centre from which feelings of love emanate. It is also associated with other virtuous emotions, such as joy, happiness, honesty, respect, compassion, understanding, and generosity, and with loving oneselfin a sincere, non-egotistic way) energy center as you maintain your pose. Muscular Energy, the second Universal Principle of Anusara Yoga, establishes stability andcoordinates physical strength. Muscular Energy draws into the Focal Point, an area of localized power in the body.

3. Expand energy with Inner Spiral. Energy expands from the feet up into the pelvis and waist area, thighs widen.

4. Apply Outer Spiral principle, which redirects energy inward, back down through the tail bone and out the legs and feet. Remember that the previous principles are still active.

5. Activate Organic Energy, the final Universal Principle of Anusara Yoga. Organic Energy is an outward energy that runs through the body’s outer core.

What Insomnia?

Getting a good nights rest can be the key to a positive and healthy day. When we start the day with negativity, the people we love most can be effected by it and it can cause sickness and health problems further down the road. So, a good nights sleep is crucial. However, some people surfer from insomnia and/or have a difficult time sleeping or falling asleep at night.

There are several things you can do to improve your sleeping patterns. Trying yoga for instance. Practicing daily yoga methods can increase sleeping routine. Whether you experience chronic or intermittent insomnia, a program of relaxing asana and easy meditation performed at bedtime can help you slow down mind and body and ease the transition into slumber, making for a better tomorrow.


Using the Nidra method of yoga start by:

Inviting your attention to go deep into the stillness and silence, in the space between the breasts.

As you move into the state of Yoga Nidra itself, you want to “empty, empty, empty” the field of mind.

There may be thoughts in the Dreaming mind, but you have gone past that in Yoga Nidra. Just like your attention has left the activities of the external world, your attention has also left the Dreaming state of mind, and gone further inward.

From this vantage point, all of that mental activity is now external, and is not even noticed.

Here, you completely let go of any words, thoughts, images, impressions, or pictures in the mind–completely empty.

It is this emptying which takes you to Yoga Nidra, to conscious Deep Sleep.

You focus your attention in the space between the breasts, and go deep, deep into
.

Prepare Yourself for the Holidays

As you find yourself wanting to relax during this hectic holiday season, then realize you forgot the gift wrap, don’t stress! It happens to the best of us. There are a lot of ways to stay calm during the holidays. Yoga can help free the mind of worrisome with a relaxing meditation.

Learning the art of ‘Relaxation’ during the holiday can greatly reduce stress levels. Sometimes we find that creating a peace with ones self can be difficult when your mind is worried about other things. There are several types of relaxing meditations you can start before moving into yoga postures.
They are quick and can be done in several minutes or longer depending on how comfortable you get. The longer you meditate the more stress you release.

‘It is better to learn the art and skill of directly relaxing than to merely distract the mind.’

It is best to maintain breath awareness as you do the practices. You will come to experience the way in which breath is a manifestation of energy, and how that energy flows throughout your being.

  • First, tense all of the muscles of the face, including forehead, cheeks, mouth, and upper neck. Then release with full awareness. You will notice the relaxation.
  • Gently roll the head from side to side, with awareness of the tightening muscles, and the feeling of release.
  • Tighten the shoulders, pulling them upwards and forwards. Then release.
  • Tense the entire right arm, from the shoulder down through the fingers. Do this without making a fist or lifting your arm off of the floor. Allow your attention to be deep inside the arm, not just on the surface. Then release slowly, with awareness.
  • Tense the left arm in the same way, and observe the release.
  • Gently tense the muscles of the chest and the abdomen, while continuing to breathe without holding the breath. Then release.
  • Tense and release the right hips and the buttocks.
  • Tense and release the right leg, down through the feet and toes in the same way that the right arm was tensed and released.
  • Tense and release the left hips and buttocks.
  • Tense and release the left leg.
  • While no longer tensing any muscles, allow your attention to drift back up through the legs, through the abdomen and chest, through the arms, and back to the face.

This method of relaxation can be repeated depending on how you feel after the first time. It’s best to practice breathing while doing any type of meditation, and when your worried about shopping or food these breathing technics will help you to stay calm and relaxed.

Muscular Energy and Organic energy

Muscular energy and organic energy are the two primary forms of energy and alignment within the flow of Anasura Yoga. Muscular energy, initiated first, is the flow of energy from the outside in. Muscular energy is the conscious movement of energy along the lines of the body, drawing muscle to bone and connecting limbs to joints as the energy moves ever inward to the body’s core. This integration of the outer body to the inner creates greater strength and stability, and is the result of great intention and awareness of the body moving within the flow of the poses. Organic energy is the reciprocal flow of energy from the inside out. Organic energy originates in the core focal points of the body and radiates outward, lengthening the limbs and expanding the muscles through expressive ranges of motion. A balanced flow of postures maintain the flow of muscular and organic energy to the outermost and innermost limits of the physical experience.

Focal points

The focal point of the body is the central point of power within any given asana, or yoga pose. The focal point of a pose is the central point within the body to which muscular energy is drawn and from which organic energy radiates. There are three possible focal points within the body, all located along the central line of energy and determined accorded to the most weight-bearing place of each pose.

The three possible focal points (and common corresponding poses) are:

  • The core of the pelvis. (standing poses)
  • The bottom of the heart. (most arm balances)
  • The center of the upper palate in the mouth. (inversions)